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Interviewing for a Teaching Position

Author(s): Tracy Volz, PhD

Responding Well

Always be aware of your audience and circumstances, and adapt your responses to them during an interview. You want to provide sufficient detail to enable the interviewer to draw sound conclusions about your qualifications and characteristics. But how much is enough? Different interviewers may need different amounts or types of information. For instance, a principal may require more detail about science content issues than the head of the science department does. Only you can make this assessment, and it will happen during the interview. It also is important to consider time constraints and to monitor the interviewer’s level of interest by watching his or her verbal/non-verbal cues. Stay on topic and remember that rambling diffuses your message, obscures your key points, and ultimately, undermines your authority.

As stated earlier, it always is helpful to anticipate your interviewer’s questions as much as possible. This will assist you in providing concise, well-phrased answers. However, you may devote considerable effort to preparing and still be surprised by an unclear or unexpected question.

What if an interviewer asks a vague question? In these instances, request more specific information. For example, if the interviewer asks, “What’s your best class?” You might ask, “Can you explain what you mean?” (e.g., Class that I have taught? Class that I have taken? Class composition?), or if the interviewer asks, “Is it better to appease parents?” You might respond by asking, “Better as compared to . . . ?”  Also, it will be helpful to narrow down non-specific questions if the interviewer tends to rattle off several topics without stating a specific question. You might say, “I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand the question. Can you restate it for me?” Or choose one point raised, the one you consider most important, and elaborate on that one.

What if an interviewer asks your opinion on a controversial subject? First, assume his or her goal in asking the question is not to see if you share his or her opinion but to see whether you’re capable of making a cogent argument and defending your beliefs. Do not worry about matching the interviewer’s opinion or dodge the question. Instead, state your own informed opinion and present an argument. If the interviewer challenges your position, listen openly and carefully, but do not abandon your position unless you are convinced by his or her counterarguments.

Avoiding potential pitfalls is as important as answering questions well. During the interview, it is important that you do not: exaggerate your qualifications; criticize your current/recent employer/supervisor; give yes/no responses; demonstrate defensive body language, such as backing up, throwing your arms across your chest, or talking faster or louder.

Finally, remember to wrap up the interview well, using the two-three sentence closing statement discussed previously. Even if the interviewer does not ask for a summation, it is important to provide this quick reinforcement of your qualifications and interest in the job.